White-tailed deer population takes 50 percent hit in Bennett County

By Tim Huether

According to South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Conservation Officer Tom Beck of Martin, approximately 50 percent of the White-tailed Deer population in Bennett County has died off this fall from Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD).

Beck said it’s hard to tell the real number, but based on reports from land owners and seeing the dead deer, he feels fifty percent is a fairly accurate number.

“From the reports I’ve had come in and looking at the deer herds, we’re looking at about 300 dead deer so far,” said Beck. “Some areas are hit harder than others. The more wetter areas where there are larger deer populations may see up to an 80 percent loss.”

Beck said there are nine strains of EHD, but the only one hitting Bennett County appears to be the one that kills off just White-tailed Deer. Some strains can kill Mule Deer and elk, but they have not seen that yet.

“If you see a deer with ears drooping, blood in the mouth or bloodshot eyes, they likely have the disease and within 24 hours will probably be dead,” said Beck. “Hopefully we’ll get a good freeze before rifle season. That will kill off the bugs and it will be over.”

He said the disease seems to be worse in the hot, dry years, as the flies breed in the stagnant waters. At this time, the die off seems to have slowed down with the cooler temperatures.

“We’re asking land owners to call us if they find dead or dying deer,” said Beck. 

He may be reached at 605-685-6335 or you may call the state office in Pierre at 605-773-5913.

EHD is not infectious to humans. Bennett County is not the top county in deer deaths, but Beck said they are in the top 10. He added that some areas of Nebraska are reporting up to a 70 percent loss, such as around Valentine.

In response to the disease, all unsold licenses will be removed from the following deer hunting units for the West River deer season: Bennett County: 11A-09 and 11B-17; Gregory County: 30A-19 and 30B-19; and Jackson County: 39B-09. In addition, 200 licenses will be removed for Meade County: 49B-09.

Hunters desiring a refund for a deer license should send their license, including all associated tags, to: GFP Licensing Office; 20641 SD Highway 1806; Fort Pierre, SD 57532.

EHD is common in White-tailed deer and is typically detected in late summer or early fall. The virus is spread by a biting midge and causes extensive internal hemorrhaging. Many deer exhibit no clinical signs and appear perfectly healthy, while others may have symptoms such as respiratory distress, fever, and swelling of the tongue. With highly virulent strains of the virus, deer can be dead within 1-3 days. In an attempt to combat the high fever, affected deer are often found in low-lying areas or near rivers, ponds and other waters.

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502 Second Avenue, Martin, SD 57551 • 605-685-6866 • booster@gwtc.net